Oh it’s the most wonderful time of the year!
I couldn’t not write a post about what to do in my wonderful home city in this most enchanting season! Although I have lived here pretty much all my life, I never tire of its festive charm and love to share the little secrets this historic town holds.
So if you are planning on spending any time in London from November to the end of the Christmas period, follow my guide below to make the most out your Christmas holidays in this wonderfully festive and traditional city. You’ll be hard pressed to find any area of the city not adequately decorated for the season to be jolly, so enjoy!
- Christmas markets
London turns into a winter dreamscape from the end of November until Christmas every year. The city is completely overturned with markets in the form of Christmas wooden huts selling everything from mulled wine and gingerbread houses to unique handmade gifts, crafts and decorations.
Some of the best Christmas markets I recommend to visit are:
- Winter Wonderland (Of course!)
- Southbank Christmas markets
- Covent Garden Markets
- Borough markets (London Bridge)
The Christmas markets at Covent Garden are beautiful. The normal plaza square is decorated in exquisite decorations with a large tree in the center of the square. High end stores, restaurant and bars lining the old cobbled streets become a glitzy sight to behold, not to mention mulled wine pop-up stations are in full flow and frankly delicious. Have dinner at one of the heated outdoor restaurants or bars to soak up the festive atmosphere.
2. Christmas Lights, shopping, restaurants and nightlife
It is no secret London comes alive at Christmas when the city is dowsed in glitzy lights and decorations. Almost all the well known shopping and nightlife districts become quite the magical sight for sore eyes 🙂
- Covent garden/Seven Dials/Leicester Squaue/Trafalgar square and
- Oxford Street/Regent Street/Piccadilly circus
Both areas become beautiful districts draped in bright festivity. It is worth taking half a day in each to simply wander and appreciate the decorations. My personal favorite is Covent Garden and the Seven Dials.
3. Winter Wonderland
Perhaps the most famous Christmas destination for the last few years, Winter Wonderland is where it’s at! Although beware crowds can get heavy (avoid Saturdays in December!) and take plenty of cash – many of the bars do not take cards and there are only a few cash machines on-site which charge you to use them and usually have a long queue to use.
Winter Wonderland is filled with markets to buy presents, funfair style rides for both children and adults, plenty of attractions (which I recommend you book in advance on-line as they book up in early) and huge pop up tents designed to hold hundreds of people looking to drink and dance the night away! Open from 10am-10pm.
4. Visit Southbank.
A walk along the Southbank to enjoy the Christmas markets are a must! The boardwalk situated between the London eye and Southbank Centre, featuring the Royal Festival Hall, Hayward Gallery, the Purcell Room and Queen Elizabeth Hall is well worth a good mooch. On this side of the river you will find plenty of London’s well known attractions. Cross the bridge here and you will be on the Westminster side of the river Thames which lead on to the West End; Covent garden/Trafalgar square/Leicester square.
If you have time you can take advantage of the attractions here including; The London Dungeons, Madame Taussauds, the Sealife center, Shrek’s adventures and an ice skating rink, which opens for the season in the shadow of the London Eye. Of course if you have never been on before jump on the London eye for amazing views over London. I recommend booking any of these in advance as they get busy around the Christmas holidays! The Southbank is usually the host of the chocolate festival here too for any chocoholics. Check what is on at the Southbank center for last minute tickets.
5. Christmas Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea, that most quintessential of English customs is a must-do at Christmas, when many of London’s hotels put on a glamorous Christmas spread in a quirky twist from the classic tradition.
I highly recommend a visit to http://www.afternoontea.co.uk/christmas-afternoon-tea-menus-gift-ideas/ to decide on where to go for the delicious cake, and if you’re lucky a festive cocktail or mulled wine to boot 🙂
6. Ice skating
London is renowned for its beautiful ice-skating rinks! Somerset House and the Natural History museum are my favourite, followed by the ice skating rinks at the Tower of London and Canary Wharf. I highly recommend pre booking for Somerset house as skating sessions book out at this popular venue.
Harrods is absolutely gorgeous at Christmas. Spend an afternoon admiring the gems on display and spend some time exploring the prestigious area. with great museums down the road and cute cafes and shops on offer, Kensington is a wonderful place to explore this time of year.
8. See a Christmas show, Panto, Carol Service or classic West End musical!
Christmas Panto’s are never in short supply in this city! This year the Palladium is hosting Cinderella! Look out for shows on across London, including at the o2 arena which hosts the annual jingle bell balls concert and Disney on Ice. The classic nutcracker ballet is also showing in London in December at the Royal Opera house. The Snowman has also come back to the theater for Christmas. The Royal Albert hall hosts a range of incredible Christmas concerts. If you like a traditional carol service, check-out the Christmas services at St-Martins-in-the-fields to really get in the Christmas spirit.
9. Harry Potter Warner Brother Studio tour – Hogwarts in the snow
If you are a Harry Potter fan, of course there can be no other must-do item on your Christmas list! The studios are kitted out for Christmas season, and the Great Hall is decorated using the Christmas props from the films. The showcase castle structure is also given a Christmas sprinkling of snow to give it an even bigger wow factor.
10. Christmas at Kew Gardens
See Kew Gardens in a different light in winter, when this wonderful garden paradise gets a sparkling make over. Perfect for a romantic evening, follow the installed illuminated trail made up of over 60,000 lights. There are giant Christmas trees and more surprises at Kew this Christmas to be explored, so wrap up cosy and take a stroll!
11. Bath Christmas Markets
Being a little sneaky and adding on number 11 for anyone looking to get out of the city centre for a day. If time allows take a day trip to a town outside London to experience a more traditional English Christmas Market! Bath is my favourite, but also consider Brighton, Winchester and Leeds castle for a magical day away from London.
1 day itinerary
Only have a day to explore London? Visit:
1.The Borough markets (London Bridge) for breakfast
3.Somerset house and Covent garden or Oxford street area
- Start the morning at the Borough markets in London Bridge for breakfast. The markets here are full of delights so have a mooch around the market before walking along the pretty river walkway for about 20-30 minutes towards Southbank.
- You will pass more Christmas pop up stands outside the Tate Modern gallery, at the foot of the millennium bridge. Indulge on a mulled wine or pick-up a hot chocolate and continue on down towards the festive hall/Southbank.
- When you arrive spend a little time here and have a mooch around the German inspired markets and attractions in the area.
- Continue over Waterloo bridge, through Embankment station and and straight up the street the other side until you reach charring cross train station. depending on your interests, turn right to visit Somerset house for a few hours ice skating and enjoying Covent Garden, or turn left towards Trafalgar and walk towards Piccadilly circus/Oxford street for shopping.
- In the evening head over to WinterWonderand for a few hours. Aim to get here for around 6-6:30pm to make the most of your time here (it closes at 10pm). I doubt you will have time to partake in the attractions unless you pre-booked, however you can enjoy a few rides, soak up the atmosphere and head to a festive tent for a drink or 2!
2 day itinerary
Have 2 days to explore?
- Afternoon Tea
- Winter Wonderland!
Take more time on day 1 and end the day around Oxford street/Covent Garden. Save Winter Wonder for a full afternoon/evening of fun on day 2! Perhaps even see a west end show in the evening or soak up the festive atmosphere in a traditional English pub!
- Spend the morning at leisure. If this is your last day in London, get up early and perhaps go ice-skating for an hour. Have only a small/light breakfast, as I would highly recommend you indulge in a Christmas afternoon tea!
- Book afternoon tea for mid-day, ideally somewhere in the Hyde park/Mayfair/Marble arch area.
- After a yummy Afternoon tea, burn off the sugar high by spending the rest of the day at Winter Wonderland
- If this is your last day in London, you could Ice skate here at Winter Wonderland, but I recommend going to one of the bigger rinks on day 3 if you are staying longer. They are just much more impressive 🙂 there are plenty of activates to keep you busy here all day!
3 day itinerary
3.Visit Kensington/ Royal parks
4.See a show
- Pick up a warming breakfast and head over to one of London’s renowned ice-skating rinks! Somerset House and the Natural History museum are my favourite, with the ice skating rinks at Canary wharf and the Tower of London a close 2nd!
- If going to the Natural History museum it is easy to spend the rest of the afternoon touring the awesome museum, or else the Science museum and V&A museum are literally next door and amazing.
- Alternatively if museums aren’t your thing, you could choose to walk around and explore the lovely area of Kensington- Take a winter stroll through one of the famous royal parks (Hyde park) and spend the evening in a cosy traditional English pub. Or of course you have the whole of the west-end on your doorstop! Pre-book some theatre tickets or take a chance on the day at one of the ticket booths in Leicester square.
- If this is your last day in London and you have not done it yet, I would recommend spending the afternoon around oxford street and exploring all the streets here.
4+ day itinerary
- Shopping districts and famous superstores
- Harrods & Kensington
- Harry Potter studios
- Canary Wharf
- Day trip to Bath for the Christmas markets
Shopping! Visit oxford street. Yes the sheer number of shoppers can be claustrophobic and over-whelming, but you have to admire the lights on Oxford/Regent street/Piccadilly circus- No trip to London is complete without it! Don’t forget to visit the famous toy shop Hamleys on Regent street – just be-warned it is so full with crazy kids this time of year you may not find your way out ever again! Enter if you dare! also Selfridges on Oxford street is a must do!
Spend time in the famous superstores! – Harrods is absolutely gorgeous at Christmas! Spend an afternoon admiring the gems on display and spend some time exploring the prestigious area.
Harry Potter studios – the studios undergo a Christmas transformation for the holiday season – so if you are a Potter fan, ensure you pre-book your tickets early for this as it sells out a few months in advance.
Bath Christmas markets – If you have time, I would highly recommend hoping on a train from waterloo and visit the historical city of bath! Soak up the atmosphere in this beautiful little town and gaze at the ancient Roman and Georgian architecture as you wander around the markets, only a 5 minute walk away from Bath central train station. You could easily spend the morning exploring the famous Roman Bath’s and the afternoon wandering the plentiful markets. I would recommend an overnight trip however to really make the most of your time here! Book well in advance or last minute for the best deals on accommodation.
I hope this has helped you decide how to spend your Christmas holiday in London!